Recently a designer reached out and asked this:

I love the visual and interaction design choices I have seen with your work. It honestly has a feeling that I can’t find in other tools/sites out there. As it relates to your visual design choices (like the principles on your site “build weird things”), what has helped you get into that creative space where you feel free to experiment visually?

This is a good question that I hadn’t exactly analyzed before! Thought I would share my answer here.

On the visual design side, it’s a little hard to explain because there are so many different aspects of how any design project ends up coming together.

My general approach is a combination of the following…

  • Having a short attention span, which always leads to exploring different ideas than I’ve tried before.
  • Taking any opportunities to be inventive whenever possible, rather than just doing the “usual stuff” that seems obvious or commonplace.
  • Striving to make things that have the friendly joyfulness and playfulness of old Macintosh UI, which inspired me heavily as a kid.
  • Caring about the craft, metaphor, and meaning of interfaces, just as much as the function of them.
  • Bringing in inspiration from non-software sources, especially art, nature, industrial design, and music.
  • Satisfying my own curiosity, and seeking the brief-but-euphoric feeling of making something you really enjoy using.

All together, this is a sort of mindset shift—giving yourself permission to think broadly, go against conventions, and then seeing where that takes you.

Oh, and one other important thing: people are weird. You and I are weird. We all see the world a little differently.

This is what makes you creatively unique. The trick is to own your weirdness, discover what you love, absorb your influences, and turn all of that into your own special taste, sensibility, and style.

Then mine that for all it’s worth. It’ll never let you down.